TwtrSymphony: One Week Old - Don't Quit Your Day Job... YET

TwtrSymphony, a collection of musicians who met via Twitter, is now one week old with Lots of Promise and a Bright Future

There are way too many miles stones passed in just one week to list them all. But suffice it to say, it's growing faster with more promise than I ever expected. We now have musicians for every instrument in the orchestra. Some have a few too many for an orchestra, so we're holding auditions. The first few audition pieces have been written and sent out. We've started talking to the media and publicizing what we do (both here and in the UK). There are even a couple of corporate sponsors who are interested in getting on board.

The audition pieces are serving a dual purpose. We need to find out who not only can actually play the music we're intending to perform, but limit the number in some sections. It will also give the musicians a chance to work with the process, and us a chance to work out the bugs. There have already been a few hick-ups in getting music to musicians. And a few musicians who are realizing this isn't the project for them.

Initially, I thought I could create an instruction sheet of what to do to get the audition music. Post the instruction sheet onto my website and put the link to the instructions in a Direct Message (DM) to the various musicians. With over 200 musicians interested in the project so far it's getting unwieldy trying to communicate with each of the musicians directly via DM. So, I tried to collect emails and send the instructions in an email with the music attached. The email part works great, but getting emails from people over twitter doesn't always. You really don't want to send emails out in the open in Twitter; we're back to DM's. The process is about 80% effective so far. Once every one has auditioned, I'll have all their emails. Moving forward shouldn't be an issue.

The process is simple, or so I thought. I send out music to the musicians. This includes the sheet music in a pdf form and an mp3 file of a click track, which has a midi realization of the part they are going to play included. They play along with the click track recording their own part. When the musicians are done, they get their recording back to me via DropBox. In the audition phase, I'll just be getting those files out to judges who will "blind" judge what works and what doesn't. When we're actually doing works, these recordings will be engineered together to create a single performance "track" we can post.

Where the process breaks down is getting the musicians to use DropBox. If you've never used it before, it can be quite daunting. What I wanted is for me to share with everyone a set of directories (folders) where I would put music for them to download. Then, the musicians would each create their own DropBox and share a directory with me. Ultimately, I would have a directory for each instrument shared with all the musicians and an individual folder for each musician. So far I'm about 25% there. But then again, the first audition recordings are due back until the 20th (Flutes); there is still time!

The audition music (another post will discuss this in more detail) has been a challenge. Initially I thought I would just rely on standard audition material, the same stuff other major orchestras would have people play in their auditions. But some of the musicians thought this might give an unfair advantage to musicians who are already in orchestras, more familiar with the "standard" process and really be nothing like my music, which is first up on the slate of music we're to perform. Besides, we're not a standard orchestra, so why do things the standard way?

This means I am having to write new music, about 45 seconds of music for each audition. I can't write one part and just have all the instruments play the same thing. Flute's have different issues than Clarinets (and a different range). Violins are different than French Horns or Harps. So, each instrument is getting its own piece. Then I have to make a click track, which means I need something that "clicks" the beat (or some sub-division of it) while the instrument plays. If all my music was in simple meter, it would be easy. But, I tend to write in 11/8 or 15/16. Even my 4/4 bars aren't really four-eighth notes and four-eighth notes, rather three-eighth notes, two-eighth notes, three-eighth notes and four-eight notes. The click track needs to reflect that sort of impulse behind the music to aid the musician in how the music is to be played. It's a pretty time consuming process.

I've had a number of composers who are itching to include their music in this project. While I'm not opposed to opening up the field and playing other composers, I want the project to succeed. As such, I really need to know what the process is that works. This way the next composer isn't having to re-invent the wheel.

Some of the musicians have opted out, decided this isn't for them. Most of the time it has to do with time. Musicians are incredibly busy people. IF they are professionals, they are playing a lot of music. It isn't just the performance they have to concern themselves with, but the time to rehearse the music before hand. Major orchestras will have 7-10 hours of rehearsal before a concert, but each musician needs to be 100% ready with their own part before those rehearsals begin. If they're playing Shostakovich 10th Symphony this weekend, they are rehearsing the music as an orchestra earlier in the week. If next weekend they are playing Mahler's 2nd Symphony, the musicians are working their parts when they aren't in rehearsals or performances. When they aren't doing that, they're working on their own performances, recitals and technique. Musicians are in many ways like doctors, constantly having to improve and hone their skills. It's a lot more work than most people realize.

As such, adding TwtrSymphony to the mix just isn't possible. I'm expecting them to learn new music, music they've never played before. Even if they find it incredibly interesting, there just may not be time in their schedule.

Perhaps the most exciting news is the concept of corporate sponsors. We're not a fixed location orchestra, so we don't have a hall to rent for rehearsals or performances. We don't have an office (yet) for the administrative staff (although I could certainly use the staff). Generally, we have a lot lower overhead than a fixed location orchestra. But, we also don't have a hall, so we have no way to sell tickets. We can (if we're successful) potentially put our music on iTunes or Amazon, but that's a long ways away. Selling music on Amazon is not guarantee you'll make anything either!

Corporate sponsors aren't looking to put in huge amounts of money, and certainly not before we can prove we can succeed. DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB! However, if we succeed, their backing would mean advertising for them (and us), exposure for their name in the market place associated with a really cool project (which we are). And, if we do get really popular the potential of leveraging the orchestra for a number of other things (of which I can't comment at present). For the musicians it means they might actually get paid for the time they put into rehearsing and recording the music. No one in this ensemble is ever going to get rich doing this. But, there is the potential to get some money into the hands of musicians who struggle to earn a living by being a musician. If we can start paying the musicians, the quality we get will also improve.

In the end, we're only a week old. Happy Birthday TwtrSymphony, so to speak. We've come a long way in just seven days. There is a long road ahead of us. But the future looks really bright!


Janet said…
This is what I call a "B Hag!" that stands for "Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal!" it's an opportunity to share unique music with a unique new audience. I hope to become a part of it.

As a flutist, I know. A up against just the sheer numbers...more flutists than an orchestra needs. And I am up against my own skills! Chip's music is not for the faint of heart, nor for the casual, play-from-the-hip approach.

Then there is the technology skills needed. I managed to receive the Dropbox files. Now to master recording myself (on my brand new digital recorder), and then uploading it back to him.

It is well worth the effort, no matter what the outcome, I am going to put the effort out, and hopefully, get to play with this grand new thing: Twtrsymphony!

I want to thank Chip and his co-creators of the idea, but most Chip who is moving this forward from an idea to a reality in progress. Thanks, Chip!
Chip Michael said…
Thanks Janet -

In many ways I consider the effort something I can give back to all the musicians on Twitter who have been so supportive of me. There are a number of people who have played my music over the past year (and looking to moving forward) just because of our conversations on Twitter, it only seems appropriate for me to give something back --a chance for them to be involved in a larger project.

I'm stunned by the amount of interest there is both by musicians, fans and even corporate money. Initially it felt frivolous but fun, then surreal and now hyper-real, rather like looking at a George Surratt painting upclose --the colors are so vibrant and amazing it boggles the mind at how well it all fits together.


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